In this film, the main character Megan (played by Natasha Lyonne) is a high school cheerleader. When suspicions arise that Megan may be a lesbian, her family and friends stage an intervention and send her to a camp known as “True Directions” that is intended to rehabilitate and gays and lesbians by turning them into heterosexuals. Watch it on 123Movie.
Character Arc in But I’m a Cheerleader
Throughout this film, Megan’s view of homosexuality, and by default, her view of her own identity shift dramatically. When she first arrives at True Directions, she is pressured to admit to the other campers that she is a homosexual, and she is extremely reluctant to do so. However, as the film progresses, she begins to accept her identity despite the camp director’s best efforts to make Megan a heterosexual.
As the story continues, Megan begins to develop feelings for another one of the female campers. When their covert relationship is uncovered, Megan owns up to her sexual orientation and is expelled from camp, while her love interest, Graham, refuses to do the same out of fear for how her father will react.
Yet, just as Graham is about to graduate from True Directions as a newly-minted heterosexual, Megan shows up at the ceremony and professes her love for Graham. Graham must then choose whether to oblige her parents or to follow her heart.
But I’m a Cheerleader’s Rating from the MPAA
When it was released in 1999, But I’m a Cheerleader was almost tagged with an NC-17 rating from the Motion Picture Association of America. The proposed NC-17 rating provoked a strong response from the LGBT community, as many individuals felt that the MPAA was acting more strictly toward films with gay content than it would toward films with predominantly heterosexual material (like American Pie).
In order to ensure that the film was not blacklisted or restricted, director Jamie Babbit ended up cutting a few clips from the film and ultimately secured an R-rating for the piece.
Stereotypes and Type Casting in the Film
Stereotypes abound in this film, and they seem to serve a purpose: on the one hand, they contribute a light-hearted comedic element that makes the viewer laugh, while on the other hand, they reinforce the concept that many stereotypes and societal expectations are misguided and detrimental.
Many of the gay male figures in the film conform to stereotypically effeminate modes of behavior, and their somewhat exaggerated actions add humor to the plotline. When they are forced to partake in “acceptable” male behavior, the humor is heightened further. For example, chopping wood with an axe becomes a necessary part of demonstrating gender conformity at camp and several of the boys fail miserably at the task. While this is humorous, it also highlights society’s misguided expectation that all gay men are effeminate.
In addition to the expectations placed on boys at the camp, the girls are expected to vacuum, cook, clean, and change diapers. The presumption that lesbians must be taught the proper way to perform domestic tasks provides humor in the film but also highlights society’s detrimental assumption that all lesbians are rough around the edges or have difficulty with domesticity. This feeds into the underlying stereotype that attractive and popular girls can’t be gay, a misguided belief that is reflected in the film’s title. How could Megan be gay? She is a cheerleader, after all.
Purpose and Message of the Film
Ultimately, the film is both satirical and comedic. It satirizes life at a rehab camp and implies that truly altering one’s sexual identity is unlikely. It also makes the audience laugh at the ridiculous and paranoid behavior of the woman who runs the camp as well as giggle at the stereotypical behavior demonstrated by the parents and the youth at the camp. However, the film also leaves us with a positive message of hope, as the final scene shows Megan’s parents attending a PFLAG (Parents and Families of Lesbians and Gays) support group meeting, indicating that genuine family reconciliation is indeed possible.
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